Running With eBags: Inside Samsonite's Email Operation

Outsiders wondered whether Samsonite will get an email capability as part of its $105 million purchase of eBags, announced last week.  

We needn’t have asked. Samsonsite will inherit “a robust email platform and a team of senior marketers that are experts in deploying personalized email campaigns that drive conversions,” the company said in an email. This is true to the digital vision laid out by the founders in 1998.  

“We’ve gone full circle,” added CEO Mike Edwards in an interview. ”The founders created the category before anyone had a vision online. We have been true to the founders’ DNA around luggage and travel.”

EBags deploys 130 automated trigger campaigns per day, and “7.5 million emails are sent out with personalized recommendations on a weekly basis,” according to the email. 

How often can a customer expect to hear from the company by email?

“It depends on their frequency of interaction with us,” said Laurie Caldwell, marketing director for eBags. “Someone interacting with the site and emails more frequently will receive more emails than someone who does not interact." 

EBags has 1.8 million active email addresses, and it focuses on these actives, while paying close attention to list hygiene, Caldwell said.

It must work: 20% of the customers are repeat shoppers on a monthly basis. And net sales hit US$158.51 million for the fiscal year ended December 25, 2016, an increase of 23.5% from the US$128.3 million in net sales recorded during the fiscal year ended December 27, 2015. 

Key to this growth is the eBags rewards program, which now has 4.4 million members. These customers provide a 74% increase in spend vs. non-members. Members get continuous email communications, including points updates, exclusive offers and messages built around events like Cyber Monday and Black Friday.

Despite all this, email is now only one piece of a larger cross-channel effort.     

“Maybe five years ago, we were relying more on more direct-to-consumer email,” Edwards said. “Now, it’s one of many points of contact in the customer journey. Some people like text, or messaging apps. Sometimes they respond to an email, or on Facebook. Or we plant a seed in their mind in some other way.”

EBags profits, but not through renting email lists. which “typically are not that productive” and are not “a good match with our customers,” Edwards said. Instead, it pulls people in through channels such Google and Facebook. “We have 50 million people a year visiting site,” Edwards added. This gives eBags an ample universe.

The company has tested direct mail, but it does little or no offline advertising.

“From the beginning, we took the stance that we couldn’t afford offline advertising,” Edwards said. “Back in 1999 and 2000, companies were blowing money like there was no tomorrow. We developed an in-house capability to reach those customers in a way that made sense for the brand."

What happens next when a person clicks on an email link?

“When someone clicks through and lands on a product page of interest, we try to provide a great experience, and make it easy for them to check out,” Edward said. “It all goes together in the end.”

As widely reported, eBags had its start when Jon Nordmark suggested to his bosses at Samsonite that they start selling online. The CEO famously replied that nobody would ever buy a bag by email, so Nordmark quit, taking several colleagues with him, and they founded eBags.

“We have never raised capital since 1998,” Edwards boasted.. “We’re scrappy, and we’re focused.”

What does Samsonite bring to the party? For one thing, its global reach. ”We’re evolving to expand our categories and become a global destination for the travel experience,” Edwards said.

As part of that effort, the company has sold hundreds of thousands of Connected Luggage tags for $7 apiece. The tags have a tracking mechanism, and download a mobile app. If the bag is lost, they can locate it.

“Essentially, you put a tag on the bag, and scan and upload it,” Edwards said. “It takes a picture of the bag and it becomes part of your digital library.” This, however, is only “the start of journey for us,” he added. The company also plans to “invest heavily in video and mobile assets because that extends the brand in ways that we’ve never been able to do,” he said. “It puts pressure on us for really great content.”


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